When God is the author of your suffering
I've had a number of conversations with different people over many years about suffering - theirs and mine. Often the Christian people I've talked with have said things along the lines of this:
"I've got children, and there's no way I would treat my kids like God is treating me right now. I don't feel like I can trust him. Or think of him as 'father'."
It's a fair enough point.
But things are different if you think of God as 'author'.
This week I'm preparing a talk entitled 'Your life as a story' in which I'm taking some principles of storytelling and applying them to every day life. I'm talking about the basic elements of a story and what it might mean to see your life in terms of narrative.
One thing that's absolutely essential to any great story is suffering. If your character doesn't suffer through conflict, tension, pain and emotional dilemmas in order to fulfil the story goal, readers will either give up or give it a 'meh' shoulder shrug rating at the end.
Without conflict and suffering a story is boring. The narrative is too easy. The end-goal is not worthwhile.
According to Daniel Schwabauer, author and writing teacher, JK Rowling was once asked what she would say to Harry Potter if she was able to talk to him. Her answer: "I'd apologise for everything I put him through."
But would we have read and loved Harry, all seven tomes of him, if he hadn't had to suffer? Would we have cheered when Voldemort was finally dead if Harry hadn't worked so hard and learned so much? I don't think so.
Schwabauer writes, "It is natural to want to help your characters out, to make their lives a little bit easier. But your job, as a writer, is to do the opposite."
I understand this. In my novel Invisible poor Jazmine had to suffer through a couple of horrible bullying scenes, almost die of embarrassment in the school playground and live in terror of going to a birthday party. If she was my daughter I would have done everything possible to make it better, but it wouldn't have made for a good story.
As an author, I really love my characters. I do think of them as children - of sorts. (Obviously they are less hungry and they don't have music practice to supervise, but they are challenging in their own way.) And I really, really want the best for them.
Unfortunately for them, though, to get to that 'best' they have to suffer, learn, have revelations and face challenges. And I have to allow them to do those things themselves. But I give them help along the way, in the form of mentors, friends, love interests, physical surroundings and circumstances which give them choices.
So in life, in the face of unexplainable suffering, sometimes we might do better to see God as an author who's writing a pretty awesome story.